Background: Farmers experience one of the highest rates of suicide of any industry and there is growing evidence that those involved in farming are at higher risk of developing mental health problems. This article provides an overview of the literature examining mental health issues experienced by farming populations in the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States and identifies areas for further research.
Method: A literature review (Medline, Science Direct, Ingenta, Proquest and PsychINFO) was carried out using the words 'farmers', 'agriculture', 'depression', 'mental health', 'mental illness', 'stress', and 'suicide', as well as a review of relevant papers and publications known to the authors. (Papers not written in English and those published prior to 1985 were excluded.)
Results: Fifty-two papers were identified with the majority focusing on stress and coping styles in farmers (24). A number of studies also focused on neuropsychological functioning and agricultural chemical use (7), depression (7), suicide (9), general mental health (4) and injury and mental health (1). This body of research studied male farmers, female farmers, farm workers, farming families, and young people living on farms. Research to date indicates that farmers, farm workers and their respective families face an array of stressors related to the physical environment, structure of farming families and the economic difficulties and uncertainties associated with farming which may be detrimental to their mental health.
Conclusion: Whilst suicide rates in some groups of farmers are higher than the general population, conclusive data do not exist to indicate whether farmers and farming families experience higher rates of mental health problems compared with the non-farming community. It is clear, however, that farming is associated with a unique set of characteristics that is potentially hazardous to mental health and requires further research.